Welcome to the latest issue of DeepSpace ! Every week, Teslarati space reporter Eric Ralph creates a hand-crafted newsletter that tells you what's going on in the space industry and what you need to know. To receive this newsletter (and others) directly and join our members-only Slack group, give us a three-month trial for just US $ 5 in a detailed update on its Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV), an ambitious spacecraft hosted by the Launcher Alpha and Beta should complement. If Firefly is able to meet the technical promise of the independent spacecraft, the combination of Alpha (~ $ 1
Rocket Lab – currently the only truly commercial provider of smallsat launches – has already demonstrated the power of this new paradigm, albeit on a smaller scale. After just one failed attempt, the company's first successful orbital launch of the company's electron rocket was also the surprise debut of a tiny third stage that orbited the payload's orbit. After five successful orbital operations, Rocket Lab has gone a step further in the third tier, adding redundant avionics, solar arrays and more to effectively create an independent spacecraft / satellite bus called Photon. Firefly's OTV is apparently much larger than Photon, but functionally pretty similar. Taking advantage of Alpha's significant performance advantages over Electron, Firefly has developed a third stage / spacecraft capable of transporting hundreds of kilograms into geostationary orbit, the moon, and (perhaps) beyond.
Changing the Delta V Game
- In general, OTV is quite small. According to Firefly's Payload User's Guide, the spacecraft weighs only 130 kg (285 lb) dry and may carry 30-70 kg of xenon fuel for its electric ion thrusters. This is a crucial difference from Rocket Lab's photon and kick phase, which relies on the inefficient (but simple and reliable) Curie nuclear rocket engine.
- According to Firefly, Alpha should bring a maximum of 1000 kg (2200 lb) into a 200 km (125 mi) deep Earth orbit (LEO). Given the ~ 200 kg wet mass of OTV, Alpha + OTV offers some incredible capabilities relative to the size and construction of the rocket.
- Powerful electric engines undoubtedly add complexity to any spacecraft they use, but this pain is often considered valuable for the benefits they can offer. In particular, the ion drive is extremely efficient.
|This graph shows the potential performance benefits of Alpha + OTV versus Alpha alone. (Firefly)|
In the presence of an older Firefly investor and board member, Firefly hopes to have OTV ready for its orbital debut on Alpha's third launch, which is not scheduled to be completed until mid-2020.
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